RIVERINA authorities are urging residents and tourists to be aware of water risks and to stay safe around waterways as Easter holidays approach.
The warnings come after a recent report by Royal Life Saving Australia that shows Australians are twice as likely to drown during public holidays as any other day of the year.
Between July 2002 to June 2017, a total of 210 Australians have drowned on public holidays, with drink drowning also twice as likely.
The report also lists the Murrumbidgee River as fifth in the top 10 river-drowning black spots across the country between July 2008 and 2018.
It recorded 14 deaths during that period compared with 41 deaths in the Murray River.
Jason McDonnell, who has been with Wagga SES for 12 years and is currently the acting unit commander, has been involved in five river-recovery operations.
"It's terrible — every single one of them is tragic to do," Mr McDonnell said.
"People just need to be aware that a river is a dangerous environment, so take care and take the time."
Despite the cooler temperatures and low water levels of the Murrumbidgee River, Mr McDonnell urged residents not to be complacent.
"Have a look at the water before you jump in because the current is always moving stuff underneath," he said.
"Always stay vigilant and don't swim by yourself."
The report concludes that the increase in risks is due to the increase in recreational swimming and aquatic activities during public holidays.
"[Further], mixing alcohol and aquatic recreation is always risky, and becomes even more so on public holidays — fatal drowning where the victim has a blood alcohol content of 0.05 per cent or higher is more than twice as likely to occur on a public holiday," the report reads.
In January this year, emergency services conducted a two-day operation to recover the body of a 20-year-old Junee man after he went underwater at Oura Beach.
In December 2018, two men jumped into the river at Wagga Beach to save another man who struggled to stay afloat.
Wagga resident Tim Pankhurst said that while he and his family are good swimmers, a river is something different.
"If you're not sure of your capabilities, then a river is the most dangerous place to be," he said.
"Even with how low it is, the current is still very strong and you can't see the structures underneath."
The latest Royal Life Saving Australia report also found that men are four times more likely than women to drink drown.
Detective Acting Inspector Phil Malligan at Wagga police said drinking alcohol and using waterways should never be combined.
"We're calling on people to enjoy themselves, not to mix alcohol with water," he said.
"Any waterway where there are currents is dangerous.
"In recent years, we've seen our fair share in the Riverina of drownings by people who weren't familiar with the region's waterways.
"Also when boating, make sure you carry enough safety equipment, including life jackets, for everyone."
In a bid to stem the problem, Royal Life Saving Australia has rolled out its 'Respect the River' initiative to educate the public about the risks with swimming in inland waterways.
Drowning risk on public holidays in Australia
While you're with us, did you know that The Daily Advertiser is now offering sports and local events as part of its growing email newsletter service? Sign up here.